Monday, April 1, 2019


Like many Colonial-era homes, the Nicholas Tyler Laundry
in Colonial Williamsburg features clapboard siding.
(Image courtesy
Wood siding has been around about as long as houses have, although for obvious reasons, it’s rare to find examples that are more than a few centuries old. Despite its susceptibility to decay, the economy, warmth, and workability of wood siding have made it the customary exterior finish for a host of American home styles.

While wood siding is no longer the bargain it once was, its popularity has hardly diminished. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular styles of horizontal siding (vertical siding would be a whole 'nother essay):

Drop siding was used to emulate the look of coursed stone,
as in this classic Italianate home in San Francisco.
Note the "quoins" or false cornerstones meant to further
the look of stone.
•  Board siding—better known as “clapboard”—consists of ordinary rectangular boards applied shiplap style to provide weather protection. Though rare today, board siding was popular in Colonial times thanks to its simple rectangular profile, which even the most primitive Yankee sawmill could crank out in quantity.

•  Channel rustic is variation of board siding. It has a tall lip that engages a shallow groove in the piece above, leaving an exposed horizontal channel.  It’s also known as “board-and-gap” due to the pronounced shadow effect this produces. Channel rustic made a brief comeback during the early postwar years, when its emphatically horizontal shadow line made it a natural for the low-slung Rancher homes of the era.   

•  Tongue and groove is yet another, more weatherproof refinement of board siding. It has a narrow tongue running along the middle of the upper edge which engages a corresponding groove above, exactly as wood flooring does.  “V-groove” tongue and  groove—bear with me here—has a beveled edge along the joint line that produces a heavier shadow than the plain variety.

This circa 1915 plan book house uses bungalow siding—a beefier version
of bevel siding—below the porch rail, and finely-textured "3-lap" siding
•  Drop siding has a smooth vertical face topped by a wide, concave channel along the upper edge. Meant to imitate the mortar joint in stone masonry, it was ubiquitous on many Victorian home styles, including Italianate, Mansard, and Stick. The masonry effect was often reinforced by adding false wooden cornerstones known as quoins, and by faux-painting the siding to imitate stone. Like channel rustic siding, drop siding made a brief comeback during the postwar era due to its pronounced shadow line.

•  Bevel siding has a tapered profile, and comes with one face smooth and the other rough sawn. You can choose whichever side suits you. Common on Colonial Revival homes, it came back for a long encore during the Craftsman period, which demanded a shaggy, natural look.  In fact, a slightly beefier version known as “bungalow siding” was offered during these years, and was typically installed with the rough-sawn face exposed

Bevel siding mixed with shingle siding on the porch gable—but that's
another story. (Image courtesy LA Places)
"Dolly Varden" siding is a variant of bevel siding, but has a groove on the bottom or butt end that allows it to overlap the piece below for better weather resistance.

•  "Three-lap" is yet another variant of bevel siding that was popular in the early twentieth century;  here, a single piece of siding was milled to look like three narrow pieces, giving a fine texture without the extra installation labor.

•  Imitations of many of the above profiles made of various formulations of particleboard or hardboard are also offered by manufacturers of “engineered wood products”.  These sidings are reasonably durable as long as their dense surface layer remains intact—but once this surface is broken, it’s sawdust city. 

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